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Movie fillets its own soul

While it’s smooth and seamless on the surface, the fishy little heart of “Shark Tale” is just a little too cold-blooded. I’m not even talking about stereotyping Italians or product placement superseding story. I’m not even making the inevitable great white shark joke (OK, maybe a little).While “Shark Tale” makes the likes of “The Little Mermaid” look absolutely primitive, it represents a great leap backward as a story for kids – or adults. Beneath the elaborate array of pixels in “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” there beat old-fashioned hearts of gold. Even the first “Shrek,” with its sometimes surprisingly nasty digs at Disney offered more than the forced coolness of “Shark Tale.””Shark Tale” is neither fish nor fresh, neither Hans Christian Andersen nor Peter Benchley. Rather, the nominal plot behind the marketing powerhouse is an uneven bouillabaisse of “Goodfellas,” “The Godfather” and “Car Wash” (both of which deserve, and have received better send-ups) with “West Side Story” for the finale. That hasty marriage makes for a convoluted story: Oscar (Will Smith’s voice) is a fish working at the whale wash and owing a pile of clams to a family of great white loan sharks – the ceviche Cosa Nostra, if you will.There’s a misfit son in the shark mafia, a pseudo girlfriend at the whale wash and an especially irritating pufferfish with the voice and facial features of Martin Scorsese. But, evidently more importantly, there’s Coral Cola that looks like Coke, there’s a fish with Will Smith’s mannerisms and dance moves, a fish with Katie Couric’s voice and the name of Katie Current, and a crab pot full of other pop-culture references neither as timeless as “Shrek” dissing Disney nor as sly as, well, pretty much the entirety of “Monsters, Inc.” (Watch it again and then take a look at the trivia section on imdb.com.)I suppose “Shark Tale” teaches an important lesson in family values, provided that you need help in explaining to your gentle, somewhat effeminate son why you’re in the mafia. Or not in the Mafia. I forget which.It’s a shame that the story is so forgettable because the movie is a visually breathtaking vehicle for it: The animators capture the scars in the sharks’ rough skin, make whales look like city buses and even – somehow – flawlessly translate Smith’s and Renee Zellweger’s distinct mannerisms onto the faces of fish that dance on their tails.And really, that might ultimately be the point of “Shark Tale” – that Will Smith is funny and cool, and the Mafia is a popular subject these days, so we might as well introduce our children to it through the conduit of talking fish before they move on to “The Sopranos.”Good animated movies always seem to offer a little more under the surface than “Shark Tale” delivers. I wasn’t hooked.Good animated movies always seem to offer a little more under the surface than “Shark Tale” delivers. I wasn’t hooked.


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